My typically quiet students — those who don’t enjoy speaking up — did well in virtual classrooms compared to their extroverted peers.
This past school year, my students and I left for spring break without the faintest idea that we wouldn’t be returning to the classroom until the following fall – thanks to the pandemic. (And, in many cases across the country, that date is still up in the air.)
As a teacher, I experienced a complete remodeling of public education in a matter of weeks. While I don’t believe that anything can truly replace in-person classrooms and daily interactions, there was much to learn in the months spent using Google Classroom, Zoom, and other online platforms.
Apart from the obvious, like becoming more familiar with technology and how it can enhance instruction, I was surprised with some of the work I received from my more introverted students. My typically quiet, sometimes shy, students — those who don’t enjoy speaking up in class or participating in group projects — did well in virtual classrooms compared to their extroverted peers.
I eagerly look forward to the day when we can teach in person again, safely. But my experience in the virtual classroom taught me things I can bring to my physical classroom, which may improve the experience for many introverted students. To be clear, I’m not saying that online learning is necessarily better for introverts than traditional education, but there are certainly some ways it helps.
5 Ways Virtual Classrooms Improved Learning for Introverts
1. They got to work at their own pace, on their own schedule.
Any given class period during a regular school day has several factors that impact a student’s work. For example, what personalities are in the class? How full is the class? How early is the class? Where does the class fall in relation to lunch? Many introverts, and even several extroverted students, do some of their best work when given the freedom to do it on their own time.
I do not think that giving students complete freedom over their schedules is the ideal situation, since a teacher is not likely able to provide assistance at 3 a.m. However, using technology as an aid to my physical classroom, I can periodically implement long-term projects and assignments that will allow students to work on them during class and outside of class — at their own pace and as it best fits their schedule.
Personally, some of my best work happens late at night, and having access to time logs from this past semester, I can confirm that some students have that in common with me — or at least share a habit of procrastination.
2. Introverts participated more.
When moving to a virtual classroom, it’s hard to avoid asking students to provide more written responses than before. Because of this change, many teachers realized that a lot of the quieter students were saying much more than they’d ever said before. Personally, my most introverted students were often the ones responding to simple “online check-in” questions with full paragraphs.
As an introvert myself, I have always been aware that my preferred method of communication is writing. Many introverted students feel the same way. When teachers do not allow opportunities for students to provide written responses — because they’ve structured a class using verbal communication only — they’ll lose many opportunities to become familiar with introverted students and their unique thoughts and ideas. This does not mean some students should never have to speak up, but even when I did raise my hand (or suffered the terrible experience of being called out), what I provided wasn’t half as meaningful or thoughtful as it would have been in writing.
I’ve always aimed for a balance between requiring written responses and holding verbal discussions in my classroom. One example of how I’ve combined the two is by providing index cards during classroom discussions so students can organize thoughts before sharing — or just write down comments and questions they do not feel comfortable sharing aloud. With a better handle on technology, I can use it to provide those opportunities as well. (And let’s face it, students who don’t prefer to communicate in writing can surely benefit from the practice.)
3. Introverts had time to prepare to interact.
There are many reasons introverted students don’t like to be called on or forced to participate in a classroom discussion, and one major reason is introverts are less likely to take risks for the sake of taking risks. However, if something is meaningful, the hesitation becomes minimal. This is why we see introverts acting major roles in school plays or passionately participating in extracurricular activities and discussions they find interesting. Aside from making it meaningful, if introverts are given enough warning or preparation time, participating in class is not as dreadful a process.
Because the virtual classroom made it more difficult to facilitate live discussions, the solutions that teachers turned to happened to allow introverts more flexibility. One common solution was to use the message board approach. While requiring students to comment on each other’s responses is widely known to welcome shallow and insincere responses (college students have lamented this fact for years), it at least allows introverts to choose when and where to respond — and in writing.
The other method of allowing interaction was through virtual conferences, usually through Zoom and Google Hangouts. As an introvert, I am not going to pretend that Zoom calls are my favorite, but they do allow introverts more control over their experience. For example, students can mute their audio or video until they want to chime in with a thought or question. They may also, if the ability is enabled, choose to interact via the chat option, allowing them to respond in a way that is more comfortable for them.
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4. Asking for help became a lot easier.
Continuing the discussion on Zoom conferences, the chat feature allows for something else that is simply not possible in a traditional, in-person lecture: Students can send direct questions to the teacher without interrupting anyone or drawing unwanted attention to themselves. The teacher can then either respond to just that student or decide to answer the question for the entire class.
While I was teaching from home, I spent the entire school day checking for and responding to individual messages from my students. They were getting more one-on-one information from me than ever before. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was as meaningful or effective as it would have been in person, but any time a student reaches out for help, no matter how simple the question, they are demonstrating that they care. Therefore, the more options they have to reach out with their questions, the better their educational experience will be.
When I am once again in my physical classroom with my students, I plan to keep my virtual classrooms active and relevant — and to teach students how to use the technology to communicate with me about their work. This way, students who are less likely to raise their hands will still have access to me, even if it’s outside of our scheduled class period.
5. Creativity became essential.
If you had the ability to look into every Facebook group and online teaching forum during the weeks following the switch to virtual learning this past school year, you would have seen thousands of educators actively sharing resources and picking each other’s brains for ways to make their students’ learning experiences as great as they could possibly be.
The one thing that became absolutely essential was creativity.
We saw videos of teachers singing songs, teaching lessons in costume, using filters, bitmojis, memes — anything to make online learning fun and engaging. Without that creativity, and the individual touch of each teacher, online learning could very easily become nothing but busy work — bland, effortless, time-consuming, and ineffective.
How does this apply to introverted students? Well, teachers were not alone in the process: Students also had to get creative to make the most out of the virtual learning situation. And introverts overall happen to excel in the area of creativity. Even introverts who do not personally consider themselves to be very creative manage to adapt easily to situations that require more independent work.
My experiences with virtual teaching could very well be entirely different from another teacher’s, and I cannot stress enough that I do not wish anything to replace an in-person education model. That’s what made me want to become a teacher in the first place. But I did learn a lot from the last few months of teaching remotely.
Some of what I experienced confirmed what I already knew about my introverted students, and some things inspired me to change how I will approach my teaching once I am in my physical classroom again. I challenge all teachers to consider what they, too, can take away from the experience — and how they can continue to use technology to best reach their introverted students.